AT Hike

ME 15, Monson, ME

Five months ago today I signed in at Springer Mountain and began my walk north to Maine. At times it feels more like five years. I’ve said before that time is irrelevant on the AT. Sometimes I don’t even know what day of the week it is. At others the whole experience seems more like a dream. Have I actually hiked 2071.4 miles? Do I only need to hike 114.5 more miles to complete a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail? The answer is “yes” to both questions and I’m getting pretty excited about it. Still, there’s hiking yet to be done, and to be perfectly honest, I’m tired. So tomorrow I’m going to take one final day off to rest up for the 100 mile wilderness and Katahdin.

Today started like most when I’ve spent the night in a shelter. At first light I packed up quickly and started up the trail with Molar Man at 6:20. Due to last night’s rain, mud made its presence known again today. And in addition to the mud, streams and rivers were at higher levels. As a result of these higher levels of water, I got the opportunity to do my first fording today. One took place at a stream while the other two occurred at the West Branch and the East Branch of the Piscataquis River. All went smoothly.

I must admit that I have been somewhat apprehensive over fording for some time. Today’s events, however, alleviated any fears. When I arrived at the first stream I removed my trail runners and socks and the put on my Vivobarefoot camp shoes. The flexibility of the plastic shoes made the crossings seem easy. At the West Branch of the Piscataquis, Goose and All the Way had arrived just before Molar Man and me, so I watched as they made their way across the wider river. A rope was affixed to trees on each side for balance. The water only came up to mid calf at the deepest part.

The third and final ford occurred at the East Branch of the Piscataquis River. Even though the river was wider, the depth of water was about the same as the second crossing. Again I easily made my way across. On the other side MM and I sat on a couple of rocks and had lunch. While dining we watched Sleeping Beauty and Jesse cross using the rock hop approach. They only got a little wet. Since we were ready to move on, they took our rocks for their lunch. We would see no other north bounders throughout the afternoon; however, we did meet Fifteen who was walking south on a flip flop.

As the afternoon waned Molar Man and I both struggled to keep any momentum. I believe I felt sluggish due to poor nutrition. I never eat well when I sleep in the woods. So for the final 3.3 miles we pushed as best as we could. I also think the cumulative miles are getting to both of us. I know that my body is ready for a rest. Even with a slower pace we finished the 17.9 day over very agreeable terrain in less than nine hours. Considering we took three breaks and had to change shoes to ford three water crossings, we made good time. When we reached the parking lot off ME 15 we chatted briefly with Bane’s dad. He has driven up from Arkansas to support his son and his buddies over the last one hundred or so miles.

So tonight I’m once again out of the woods and at a motel in Greenville, ME. A picturesque lake sits to the rear. I relaxed in an adirondack chair by the lake for a while in the afternoon. Relaxation is something I hope I’ll have more time for soon. Tomorrow, however, will be a day of scouting as Molar Man, Sweet Tooth, and I go looking for roads in the 100 Mile Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail.

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Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to

Thursday, August 22: I’m sitting on a boulder overlooking Bald Mountain Pond. Molar Man and I arrived at the Moxie Bald Mountain Lean-to at 2:00. Now I have to find something to do until dark. Watching the calm waters of the pond and listening to the silence are options. The rain that was predicted for 3:00 has not arrived. It’s very warm and humid for Maine. A frog sits near my feet. I believe that I’ve seen more frogs in Maine than the other thirteen AT states combined. This one blends in with the crumpled leaves on which he is perched. Only a foot away from the pond, he appears to be pondering whether or not to leap. I look up occasionally, hoping to spot a moose in the distance.

Several hikers have gathered at the shelter about fifty yards away. Besides Molar Man, All the Way, Goose, Tracker, Bane, Heart Rock and two sectioners without trail names relax. Some will move on; others will stay the night. The shelter supposedly sleeps eight. It looks crowded with five sleeping pads already laid out. I secured a spot next to the wall which gives me a little more room. If the rain comes, the shelter could get busy. Hikers walk the path to the pond for water and then return to the shelter. Sleeping Beauty was here earlier. He decided to hike on with Jesse, a section hiker from Boston.

This morning the more challenging AT of Maine returned for awhile. When Molar Man and I hit the trail at 6:40 we walked almost a mile on a flat surface before being confronted with Pleasant Pond Mountain. The 1000 foot ascent brought out the sweat on our brows quickly due to the humid conditions. In fact we both struggled to reach the summit. Maybe it was because we hadn’t been faced with a climb in a couple of days, or maybe it was the early hour, but for whatever reason, I was beat at the top. Fortunately a long, less severe descent followed.

When MM and I reached Moxie Pond we were expecting our first ford. Alas, no fording was needed again today. Even though the pond was considerably wider than most streams, a lengthy rock hop brought us to the other side. After Moxie Pond the trail leveled again until Bald Mountain Brook Lean-to. We decided to forgo the 200 yard walk to the shelter. Instead we walked on up the trail and found a spot to stop for lunch. I told Molar Man that I missed Slim as we dined sitting on rocks in the middle of the trail. Despite the added weight I was glad I had brought myself a root beer.

From the lunch spot the trail again ascended up Moxie Bald Mountain. Like the earlier climb today, this one offered somewhat of a challenge, at least near its end. We weren’t sure why but this mountain offered a summit bypass trail. Since I only hike the AT’s white blazes we chose the tougher route. About 0.1 mile before the summit angled rock slabs began to appear. Because they were dry we were able to walk up the center without any problems. The trail dipped back into the woods shortly after the summit which the trail missed crossing by about thirty yards. Since clouds indicated approaching rain, Molar Man and I chose not to take the blue blazed trail up to the top. As we started the descent a light rain forced us to affix our rain covers. The shower was short- lived. We continued to hike a very agreeable trail for two miles to the shelter.

The highlight of today’s 13.6 mile hike was meeting a southbound hiker who sported a sign on his pack declaring, “Save Olympic Wresting.” I asked CT Medic if I could take his picture which resulted in a spirited conversation. In a couple of minutes CT Medic and I discovered that we had much in common. He had run the Boston Marathon, was wearing Brooks Cascadias, and more coincidentally, had recently lost his brother at an early age. CT said his last birthday (37) was the first he had experienced without his twin. We shared about our brothers in the middle of the Appalachian Trail. I continue to believe that I have crossed the paths of many for a reason. I hope I’ll see CT Medic again when he gets to Georgia.

Well, it’s now 6:20 and bedtime is approaching in the woods. All the Way and Molar Man have already been snoring. Goose is tenting near the pond. Tracker, Heart Rock, and Bane have set up hammocks under a tarp. Dag, their dog, is jumping between the hammocks. He became my friend this afternoon when I gave him the broth from some Vienna Sausages. The section hikers, Allen and Alex, have returned from the lake and are getting in their bags as well. The rain has temporarily subsided. Another day is winding down in a shelter near a pond out in the woods on the Appalachian Trail.

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Pleasant Pond Rd., Caratunk, ME

I first met Susquehanna Slim in Erwin, Tennessee when we shared a shuttle with Tom “10K” Bradford. I wouldn’t see him again until near Race Mountain in Massachusetts. He was hiking southbound that day, so we chatted briefly on the trail. Then our paths crossed in Salisbury later that evening. On trailjournals Slim posted an entry talking about my method of hiking. So when he sounded somewhat despondent in a post, I sent him an email inviting him to join me to Katahdin. He sent a response accepting the invitation. From just south of Hanover until today we hiked every mile together until we parted ways at Pleasant Pond Rd. From there Slim headed on up the trail as Molar Man and I joined Sweet Tooth for the ride into Caratunk and rooms at the Sterling Inn. I’ll miss my good hiking buddy, Susquehanna Slim.

The day started with a remarkable breakfast served up by Tim at Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps. Molar Man, Slim, Sweet Tooth and I had been given the 7:00 time slot. Tim is a one man operation, so he serves breakfast in shifts when he is especially busy. Today there were seventeen hikers scheduled to dine. The standard breakfast includes 12 pancakes, eggs, sausage, juice, and coffee. The pancakes contained blueberries, raspberries, and apples. I opted for the half order of six. They were delicious. After our meal we walked across the shaky wooden bridge back to the trail.

It was important that we covered the 3.2 miles to the Kennebec River quickly in order to beat the large group of hikers behind us to the ferry. The Kennebec is the only river on the AT in Maine where fording is prohibited. A canoe transport is provided between 9:00 and 11:00AM and 2:00 and 4:00 PM across the Kennebec. When we reached the rendezvous point two hikers were already waiting. One was Fancy Pants. The other was the young man whose trail name I can never remember or pronounce when I see it. OB just calls him “Boy.” They rode over together while MM, Slim, and I waited our turn.

Since the ferryman could only carry two hikers at a time, Slim and I went together. We first had to sign a waiver and put on life vests before the transport. Slim sat in front and paddled. I sat in the middle and watched. Due to the currents the ferryman paddled north before veering the canoe toward the landing area. Molar Man took the next ride along with Torch. A troop of Boy Scouts waited to be shuttled across southbound. Once MM reached the bank the three of us continued our hike up a very agreeable trail for the remainder of the morning. We eventually reached Pleasant Pond Rd. where Sweet Tooth was waiting. After bidding farewell to Slim, Molar Man and I headed towards Caratunk and the Sterling Inn.

Later in the afternoon we drove to Bingham for lunch at Thompson’s Restaurant and then into Monson for some reconnoissance work. We talked with Phil at 100 Mile Wilderness Adventures and Outfitters about accessible roads in the wilderness. Currently Phil is constructing a hostel like series of cabins for hikers. The information Phil provided should prove extremely helpful as we negotiate the 100 miles between Monson and Millinocket. After our meeting with Phil we also drove into Greenville to look for a lodging base for the next few days.

Then it was back to Caratunk. Despite hiking only an 8.8 mile day, we accomplished a good deal. In fact, we discovered that there’s a good possibility that Molar Man and I can hike the entire Wilderness without staying in the woods. That is of course with Sweet Tooth’s assistance. Tomorrow night, however, we will be back in the woods for what could be one final time as we continue to make our way north up the Appalachian Trail.

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Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps

Tuesday, August 20: I’m sitting on the porch of Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps. Rustic could be construed as an understatement for the primitive wooden structures just off the AT. Four hummingbird feeders hang from wooden beams. Tim, the proprietor, says that based on the amount of sugar water consumed, there are probably as many as sixty birds feeding daily. Molar Man sits to my right. Next to him Sweet Tooth relaxes. At the end of the line of an eclectic assortment of chairs, Susquehanna Slim sits. We are all fascinated by the hummingbirds. As they fly in to enjoy the sweetness of the sugar water, Slim and I try to take pics. I successfully record four birds in one photo. We aimlessly wile away the afternoon, each subconsciously focused on finishing the hike.

Our day began eight hours earlier at Bog Brook Rd. Unlike recent hikes, today’s trail consisted of the easiest terrain we have encountered since, well since a long time ago. I almost miss the treacherous mountains that we have painstakingly climbed over the past few weeks. What I did truly miss were the views from the high elevations. None were to be found today. We did, however, experience a number of lakes and ponds. The trail almost completely circumvents Flagstaff Lake. I could see my brother standing on the rocky shore casting into the lapping waters. On this clear warm morning Flagstaff epitomized serenity and peace. I would have liked to just sit for a spell but miles needed to be hiked.

The trail also skirted West Carry Pond and East Carry Pond. Even though there were almost no noticeable elevation changes throughout the day, rocks, roots, dirt, and of course, mud still existed. Occasional dried leaves and pine needles made for comfortable walking. For the most part today’s hike came as close to any the trail has offered up to being simply ” a walk in the woods.” It felt nice to be able to daydream while hiking once again.

So as I walked along at a two miles an hour pace, I did a lot of thinking. I reflected on many aspects of the hike as well as on those who have hiked along with me. And I thought a lot about Don. He would have loved all these ponds. I think East Carry was my favorite. Molar Man, Slim, and I had our lunch overlooking the peaceful waters of East Carry. The water appeared too shallow for any fish to be swimming near the bank. I imagined big ones under the surface farther out.

A little farther up at the north end of East Carry the trail crosses a small beach. I imagine a number of hikers over the years have paused for a swim in the warm August water. Not today. We moved on, picking up the pace slightly in anticipation of getting to the Camps by 3:00. With the agreeable trail and no distractions, we reached the sign indicating the turn at our designated time. The short side trail travelled over Pierce Pond by way of a rickety bridge that appeared to need some serious repair.

For the remainder of the afternoon we visited with other hikers who had stopped by to make breakfast reservations. Tim’s pancakes are said to be some of the best on the entire AT. Hikers who don’t stay in the cabins can still come in for a reasonably priced meal. Pumpkin Head, Spacey, Steady State, Tobey, and Hangman were hanging around. After eating a supper that we had packed in, Slim and I played some pool before working on our journals in the dining room.

Tim asked if we minded if he put on some music. We didn’t. After a few minutes he joined us at the table with a glass of wine. As soon as he sat down Tim looked me in the eye and said, “Tell me about your brother.” And so I did. Tim listened intently as I talked about Don’s life, his faith, his illness, and his death. He showed genuine concern. Then Tim spoke of losing his brother in his early 50’s. And I listened. I think talking about our brothers was therapeutic for both of us. Tim also discussed Parkside, the young hiker who had drowned in Pierce Pond while thru hiking last year. It was obvious that Tim was still shaken by Parkside’s death. Slim and I sat past our bedtime to listen and share. Tim’s candor and sincerity made a definite impression on me.

So shortly before ten we retired for the evening. The pond runs right in front of our cabin, so the watery sounds will be within earshot all night. I hope they lull me to sleep so that I’ll be able to hike strong tomorrow up to Caratunk. Tomorrow will also be bittersweet because it will be my last day hiking with Susquehanna Slim. Slim has decided to move on a little faster since he needs to go back and pick up a section he left out in Vermont. It has been a pleasure and an honor hiking through New Hampshire and part of Maine with Slim. So once again after tomorrow things will be back to where they were in Tennessee and Pennsylvania as Molar Man and I make our way toward Katahdin on the Appalachian Trail.

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Bog Brook Rd.

On a beautiful, sunny warm summer day, Molar Man, Susquehanna Slim, and I successfully conquered the Bigelows, the last major range on the AT in Maine. We knocked off a fairly challenging 16.1 mile day in less than ten hours. And more importantly I passed the 2000 mile mark in the early morning. I haven’t used the word “awesome” to describe any hikes lately; however, today’s hike was awesome. From the picturesque views of ponds from the peaks of 4000 foot mountains to gently rolling pine straw laden segments, all was good today on the Appalachian Trail.

The most difficult part of today’s hike occurred at the outset. MM, Slim, and I faced a significant climb of 2600 feet over a little over four miles. Several extremely steep sections made each of us stop occasionally to regain our momentum. Fortunately there weren’t any technical issues with which to deal. It was just a long hard climb. Views of lakes and ponds were visible from several vantage points. Under perfect weather conditions, Cranberry Pond and Horns Pond appeared crystal clear from the higher elevation.

After reaching South Horn at 3831 feet, we continued working our way up the Bigelows. Bigelow Mountain west peak challenged us with an exposed summit and high winds. Even though the trail traversed close to a precipitous drop off, I never felt like there was any danger. For the most part I was able to walk up the rock ledges without having to use my hands. We took a brief break at the top, but needed to move on quickly due to the wind.

From the 4145 west peak the trail dipped slightly before ascending again to Avery Peak at 4090 feet. At the summit of Avery a sign designating the 2000 mile mark stands. The peak is actually about six miles past that milestone according to this year’s standards. Even though the trail changes periodically, signs remain in their original places. Some old ones provide inaccurate distances. At the peak I talked with two hikers from New Hampshire, Jeff and Ray, who were climbing all the New England 4000 footers.

From Avery peak the trail descended to Safford Notch and then leveled before ascending again to Little Bigelow Mountain. The trail then descended 1200 feet before leveling off over the last two miles to Bog Brook Rd. where Sweet Tooth was waiting. On the descent from Little Bigelow we met section hiker Abe and his young son Abel. Although he was out for only five days, Abe was carrying about the biggest pack I have ever seen. He said it contained beach towels and goggles along with dog food and other sundry items. I’m not quite sure why he needs all the items he mentioned carrying.

So as my day winds down I feel a sense of relief over having no more major mountains except Whitecap and Katahdin. Tomorrow’s trail looks agreeable on the map. With sunny skies in the AM predicted, we should be able to get in another longer mileage day, headed north on the Appalachian Trail.

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Stratton Brook Pond Rd.

I am sitting on the porch of the Stratton Motel in Stratton, Maine. There are five rooms here. Hikers fill every one. Slim and I occupy room 2. A hostel attached to the motel houses hikers as well. All the Way and Goose sit at a picnic table along with two hikers I don’t recognize. Across the street Fotter’s Market displays a sign stating, “Hardware Paint and Plumbing Supplies.” Another says, “Groceries Meats Fresh Produce Beer & Wine.” The local Lions Club solicits donations out front for some animal cause. Cars steadily arrive and depart. Business appears to be good on a lazy August afternoon in small town America.

Earlier today Susquehanna Slim, Molar Man, and I hiked what may be construed as a “nero” day of a mere 9.1 miles over mainly agreeable terrain. Other than a mildly strenuous climb up South Crocker Mountain to 4040 feet, followed by a less difficult ascent of North Crocker to 4228, the day sailed by. The summits are only one mile apart with not much to be concerned with between the two. After the Crockers the trail gradually descended over 5.2 miles to ME 27. With few rocky sections, we covered the total hike in less than five hours.

Nothing really noteworthy happened during the hike’s duration. One view and a nondescript trail made for a lackluster hike. It was just getting the miles done today. When we reached the road we had lunch and then walked an additional 0.8 miles to Stratton Brook Pond Rd. with no packs. Sweet Tooth was waiting there for the drive back to Stratton. Slim and I then decided to partake of a second lunch at the White Wolf Cafe. We also got laundry done and have the remainder of the day to relax.

While I have been writing other hikers have arrived at the hostel. I walked over to introduce myself to several who I have not met. We have walked the same trail for almost 2000 miles and I’m meeting Wolfman, Timex, Red Knees, Toby, and Whistler for the first time. Such is life on the AT. And the AT changes yearly. Since I’ve been using 2012 standards thus far, I’ve decided to add the additional 1.7 miles that the trail was lengthened this year to today’s mileage. This will make my total accurate for the rest of the 2185.9 mile journey. Tomorrow I’ll hit the Bigelows a little farther up the Appalachian Trail.

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Caribou Valley Rd.

Twenty-five years ago today I met the cross-country team I coached for a hard interval workout at Cooper Creek Park. That fall sophomore Bobby Gardner and freshman Scott Teixeria would lead a young group of runners to a region championship. When I arrived home from the park that morning, Linda said she thought it was time. I showered before driving her to the hospital. Later that afternoon our daughter was born. Some memories never fade.

So on my daughter’s birthday I awoke at dawn in the Poplar Ridge Lean-to. Molar Man and I almost simultaneously began the ritual of breaking camp. Shortly thereafter Susquehanna Slim followed suit. Even though I’ve only stayed in around fifteen shelters, I have the morning routine down pat. I readied my pack, ate two pop tarts, and treated a 32 ounce bottle of water before exiting the shelter at 6:20. A bright sun filtered through the spruce trees as my hiking buddies and I ventured up the trail. I anticipated a good day’s hike to accompany the crisp, sunny morning.

That anticipation quickly evaporated. My bright outlook was transformed into dismay shortly after I left the shelter. A perilous descent consisting of several steep rock slabs awaited us. So from the outset my stress level accelerated. Like with other similar sections, I slowed my pace and hiked deliberately. For about a mile it was slow going indeed. Finally, however, the trail leveled off to some degree with a few minimal ups and downs until we arrived at Orbeton Stream.

In the AT Guide several water crossings are designated for fording. Orbeton was one, but today the water level allowed us to rock hop across. This stream was the widest that I have crossed in this manner thus far. When I looked back to the other side I quite frankly wondered how I had managed to stay dry. For some time I’ve been dreading to some degree any fording; however, lately I’ve begun to look forward to trying one. I’m sure I’ll get my chance soon.

After the stream crossing we ascended almost 1000 feet to the summit of Lone Mountain at 3260 feet. From there the trail again leveled nicely over two miles to the Spaulding Mountain Lean-to. We stopped for lunch and were joined by Barking Spider, Stretch, Captain Planet, and OB. Slim accused me of yogiing an Oreo off of Stretch last night when I commented how good hers looked. When Slim brought the episode up today, Barking Spider offered me another. I’m usually not one to accept food from young folks who spend most of their nights in the woods, but on these two occasions I appreciated their kindness. While at the shelter I also shot a pic of OB eating dry Ramen for lunch.

When we left the shelter MM, Slim and I were immediately faced with an almost 900 foot climb up Spaulding Mountain. With mainly a dirt trail, we made good time reaching the top. We decided to forgo a 0.1 side trail to the summit. After the summit the trail leveled again until an extremely precipitous downhill began just past Sugarloaf Mountain. Again I hiked with deliberation and focus as I slowly inched my way down the sheer rock slabs. The descent forced me to think every step as I worked my way down. At the bottom the Carrabassett River awaited. Also listed as a ford, again rocks and a plank were positioned so that a dry crossing was possible. Slim commented as we prepared to “walk the plank,” “most people probably make it across.” Torch and Pumpkin Head provided an audience on the opposite bank as I eased my way over. I reminded them that one day they too would lose their agility.

Once Slim and I reached Caribou Valley Rd., we walked the half mile to where Sweet Tooth was waiting. Molar Man had hiked ahead and was already there. We then drove in to Stratton where we plan to set up a base for the next few days. Despite the challenging trail early in the day as well as late in the day, the 13.2 miles passed quickly. Tomorrow we will hike a shorter day when we deal with two 4000 footers. Maine continues to be rugged, but I’m taking it one day at a time on the Appalachian Trail. Happy 25th birthday, Rachel.

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Poplar Ridge Lean-to

I first met Pilgrim at a hostel near Front Royal, VA. He had twice been sick and was losing weight. I saw Pilgrim again at Bears Den and discussed my method of hiking with him. We again crossed paths in Pennsylvania. Then I ran into him in Salisbury, CT at Maria McCabe’s. A couple of days later I received a text from Pilgrim telling me that he wanted to hike with me using what came to be called the DBM (light pack, big miles, and beds). So Pilgrim and I became hiking partners and friends over the next month. Through part of MA, all of VT and NH and into ME, we shared stories about our lives and the trail. It saddened me when Pilgrim left the trail earlier this week; however, I understood why. I hope many folks will read his journal and sign his guest book wishing him well. It was a tough decision to go home, but Pilgrim knew it was time.

Today Molar Man, Susquehanna Slim, and I hit the trail at 6:05, anticipating a challenging day with three substantial climbs. The day began rather innocently with a brief gradual uphill before the serious ascent of Saddleback Mountain. With several segments of sheer rock face, I was able to walk right up most in my new shoes. When that method wasn’t advisable, I meticulously worked my way up the edge. All in all, however, the ascent didn’t create that much of a problem.

On the approach to the summit we noticed what looked like children playing. At the summit we met former thru hiker Wendy (Philosophy), 7 year old Noah and 5 year old Juliet. All three were wearing sandals. Here we are, three men in boots or trail runners, working hard to keep from falling, while a couple of elementary kids are playing on the rocks in sandals. Philosophy shared some cookies she had prepared just for thru hikers.

From 4120 foot Saddleback we descended another minimally dangerous stretch until a second climb occurred. This one, the Horn, was over a shorter distance. At the summit we met a young man from New York, Ryan, who was working on bagging all 114 peaks of over 4000 feet in the northeast. The Horn climb and descent mirrored the previous mountain in terms of difficulty. The downhills again require me to hike deliberately. After panoramic scenic views at the crests, it’s always troublesome to have to descend so slowly.

After the Horn one more mountain remained to be climbed, Saddleback Junior. Like the other two, some sheer rock face necessitated diligent maneuvering. And also like the other two, the descent was worse than the climb. Views prevailed again in all directions. With abundant sunshine and mild temps, the hike went really well despite the tough terrain.

Even though it was only 2:00 when we reached the Poplar Ridge Lean-to, we kept our plans for calling it a day. This shelter, which was constructed in 1961, is known for its baseball bat like floor. Several other hikers stopped by before moving on. Section hiker Sore Toe appears to be the only one staying the night, at least for now. Pumpkin Head, Torch, Spacey, and section hikers Gary and Dave from New Hampshire, visited awhile before moving on. Rain has just begun, so it’s good to be inside for the night, even if this is a rustic abode. Tomorrow we’re looking for more sunny skies as we make our way through Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

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ME 4, Rangeley, Maine

I’m at a cabin in Rangeley, Maine. It is not to be confused with “the” Cabin of Honey and Bear in Andover. Molar Man, Sweet Tooth, Susquehanna Slim, and I will be here only one night. Tomorrow night MM, Slim, and I will be back in the woods. But for tonight we’re living in luxury, at least according to AT standards. A front porch looks out to a scenic lake. A cool, autumn like breeze reminds me to put on long sleeves before walking to the post office. The Blueberry Festival kicked off today. Much is happening in Rangeley, Maine.

Earlier this morning the group made its final appearance at the General Store and Diner in Andover for breakfast. Wanting to get to the trail before 7:00, we arrived at the diner at 5:00. The two cups of coffee, however, didn’t keep me from getting drowsy on the drive up ME 17. That drowsiness wore off quickly as my buddies and I started up the trail at 6:42. With very little elevation change, today’s hike proved to be about as agreeable as any I’ve experienced since Vermont. Mud continued to force various acrobatic maneuvers to prevent submersion, but it did appear a little firmer since there hadn’t been any rain over the past 24 hours.

Ponds definitely highlighted the day. First came Moxie Pond followed by the much larger Long Pond. We almost completely circled Long. At one point a sign indicating “Beach” stood just off the trail adjacent to a sandy spot with two benches. We chose to forgo swimming. We also walked past the trail to the Sabbath Day Pond Lean-to. Then at Little Swift River Pond we broke for lunch. I walked down by the water where two canoes were lying next to the bank. Torch, Sinner, and Pumpkin Head lounged by the pond. Still no moose were in sight.

Before reaching ME 4 to Rangeley we passed two more ponds in the afternoon: Chandler Mill and South Pond. I took pics of each and as always thought about Don and how much he loved to fish. A reader on trail journals recently commented about my opening page always being of my brother and the big bass. That’s no accident. I set it that way. I want all my followers to know what this hike is all about. I want them to see a picture of a man who loved the outdoors all his life. I also want to continuously remind myself of what a fine man he was in all respects. The AT provides the hiker with all that nature has to offer. Most of all it’s about the woods, and Don loved the woods.

After a rather short 13.2 mile day we found ourselves in Rangeley before 2:30. After showering I walked to the post office to pick up my last pair of Brooks Cascadias Trail Runners. This shoe has served me well throughout the hike. I also bought another pair of smart wool socks and treated myself to a large ice cream cone. Later in the afternoon Molar Man, Sweet Tooth, Slim, and I ate at a bar-b-cue place. We also shopped for some groceries in preparation for our night in the woods. Sunshine and a morning in the 40’s awaits us as we continue walking through Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

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ME 17, Oquossoc, ME

Old Blue conjures up the image of a docile, sleepy hound dog waiting for a pat on the head, kind of like Old Duke in The Beverly Hillbillies. Old Blue, the Appalachian Trail mountain in Maine, in no way resembled a lethargic canine. It greeted Molar Man, Susquehanna Slim, and me at 7:07 with an immediate steep rock step incline. Despite the neatly arranged steps that had obviously required many hours of trail maintenance, Old Blue brought out the sweat early. When the steps diminished, the sheer rock face commenced. Some nice person had fortunately placed rebar ladders with railings in strategic places. When no rebar was available, I inched my way up the slabs, hugging the small trees for balance if I could find one.

Reaching the summit after climbing 2200 feet over 2.8 miles, I was already tired with 10.4 remaining to be hiked. Then a painstakingly slow descent followed. Every time a downhill occurs my pace decreases. With massive amounts of mud to contend with, in addition to the steep slick rocks, deliberate hiking was a must. And when I slowed, my hiking buddies got ahead. It’s just my method to try my best to ensure that I stay on my feet. On a few occasions I still needed to sit and slide down a slippery, mossy rock. I don’t mind sitting when that’s the best way.

After the slow descent I had to climb what seemed like a never ending Bemis Mountain. We thought we had reached the summit about four times before we finally did. Even though there was no view due to cloud cover, we took our lunch break at the top. Pumpkin Head, Sinner, and Torch passed us as we ate. We also were passed by Stretch and Barking Spider later in the day.

The remainder of the day consisted of several ups and downs over the same tedious terrain. Like yesterday, both my shoes were caked in thick black mud. Wet roots contributed to the less than agreeable trail. Feeling tired early in the afternoon made the final four miles difficult in more ways than one. Molar Man hiked ahead while Slim and I lagged behind, talking our time on the final steep downhill. When it ended the trail had one more special offering for our final mile of the day, another steep climb. This one, fortunately, ended at the road.

Slim and I walked up the highway to where the Volvo was parked. We quickly realized that Molar Man had fallen into the last stream crossing of the day. A haggard looking man, who identified himself as a homeless trout fisherman, even offered Molar Man some dry pants. He declined. The fisherman kept insisting, saying that they were recently laundered. Sweet Tooth told the man they weren’t the right size. If Molar Man had accepted the man’s generosity, that would have been a different type of trail magic.

Today indeed was a tiring one. The trail threw some challenges our way, but we were up for them. As I hiked today I thought a lot about my brother. A year ago today Don had exactly two weeks left to live. A man of strong faith, he was ready to move on. I thought about the inner strength he continued to reveal up until the end. Daily as I walk I feel his strength with me. I’m getting close brother. Just a little while longer on the Appalachian Trail.

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